Disgraced former assistant tax commissioner Nick Petroulias has resurfaced at the centre of a corruption inquiry into a series of deals to sell off up to $30 million worth of Aboriginal land in the Hunter Region.
Mr Petroulias was one of the country's most senior public servants before his high profile jailing in 2008 for corrupt conduct and unauthorised publication of Commonwealth documents.
The first day of public inquiry by the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) has heard that Mr Petroulias played a “central role” in three deals – and one attempted deal – to sell off land belonging to the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council.
In one of the more extraordinary allegations, Mr Petroulias was accused of signing a 2014 deal on behalf of a company director who was already dead at the time he was appointed.
The deals took place between 2014 and 2016, with the most lucrative worth $30 million, the inquiry heard.
In his opening address, counsel assisting Nicholas Chen SC alleged that Mr Petroulias used a "two dollar company" he controlled – known as Gows Heat – to obtain purchase rights over several parcels of Awabakal land.
"Mr Petroulias at that time had recently been made a bankrupt," Mr Chen told the inquiry. "Neither Gows Heat nor Mr Petroulias paid any money to the land council to secure this 'right'."
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It was alleged Mr Petroulias on-sold the purchase rights to a new buyer and then attempted to on-sell the rights again to another buyer, while both remained unaware of the other's existence.
"Gows Heat and Mr Petroulias secured a significant windfall: he sold this "right", around six months later, and received around $1.1 million as a result," Mr Chen said.
Whether Awabakal's board was aware of these deals – and how the deals could go ahead without disclosure to the board – will be investigated by the inquiry.
The inquiry will also examine the actions of two former Awabakal board members involved in the transactions – Richard Green and Debbie Dates – and a lawyer who executed the deals on land council's behalf.
That solicitor, Despina Bakis, was the sole director of Sydney firm Knightsbridge North Lawyers. Mr Chen noted that she had been in what could be described as an "on again off again" relationship with Mr Petroulias for about 20 years.
Mr Chen noted that neither Ms Bakis or Mr Petroulias were indigenous and Ms Bakis had "no relevant experience" in undertaking the kind of work she was tasked to do by the land council.
The inquiry heard Mr Petroulias has adopted a string of aliases, including Nick or Nicholas Piers; Nick or Nicholas Pearson and Nick or Nicholas Petersen.
A number of corporate entities with links to Mr Petroulias had been created using the identities of people that knew nothing of their involvement, Mr Chen alleged.
The hearing continues.